Archive for the ‘leadership ’ Category

Designer. Sui Generis

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

His true legacy is that he made the digital analogue. He turned ‘stuff’ into enduring delight. And what one business would have seen as irrelevant, expensive design detail, he made glorious, emotional connectivity. ~Richard Seymour, designer

His Legacy

In countless tributes to Steve Jobs, Apple devotees are understandably praising him for redefining several consumer electronics categories — the computer, the mouse, the MP3 player, the smartphone and the tablet.

Apple’s sleek devices resonate with users through all the noise and clutter of their lives, whether they’re in Johannesburg, Shanghai or São Paulo.

But Jobs’ impact extends beyond Apple’s wildly successful product line. Jobs not only raised the bar on consumer electronics, he transformed the discipline of design. Due to the universal appeal of his work, he revolutionized the way designers everywhere approach their work.


The Disruptor: Dr. Ngozi Oknjo-Iweala

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

An African Narrative

The misdeeds of Africa’s despots get plenty of media attention because they fit a Western “plug-n-play” narrative about the region. Conversely, the work of Africa’s exemplary leaders is often overlooked.

I’d offer the story of an extraordinary African leader determined to improve the quality of life in her nation. She’s Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who was recently appointed Nigeria’s Finance Minister.

In her previous stint in that role, she compiled a stunning record of economic reform. She was the first woman to serve as her country’s Finance Minister and as its Foreign Minister.

Okonjo-Iweala is an inveterate disruptor of the status quo who is guided by her vision for what’s possible and a zeal for instigating change.

Stories like hers give rise to an emergent narrative that’s being written by Africans. As she puts it, “This is the Africa of opportunity. This is the Africa where people want to take charge of their own futures and their own destinies.”


Planning for What’s Next

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

Scenarios are the most powerful vehicles I know for challenging our “mental models” about the world and lifting the blinders that limit our creativity and resourcefulness. ~Peter Schwartz

Using a longer lens

It’s been twenty years since the publication of Peter Schwartz’s insightful primer about scenario planning, The Art of the Long View. In the book, Schwartz makes a convincing case for using scenario planning in approaching strategic challenges of various kinds.

Schwartz, who led scenario planning efforts at Shell, Motorola, and Pacific Gas and Electric, concluded that the technique could be applied to handling the emergent complex threats that companies were confronting in the 90’s.

Since then, the world has grown radically more complex, more uncertain. Globalization and the Internet have woven together our institutions so that a crisis in one corner of the world can spread virally with far-reaching consequences.


Remembering C.K. Prahalad

Saturday, April 24th, 2010

Invest time in languages and intercultural awareness. Focus on becoming part of global citizenry. In exchange for the opportunity to participate everywhere/anywhere in the world you have the obligation to do something productive, which will improve the world.  ~C.K. Prahalad

Distinguished scholar and visionary

The distinguished business scholar, C. K. Prahalad, died unexpectedly last week of a lung ailment at the age of 69. His contributions to the pursuit of business strategy and innovation are unparalleled.  He’s had an enormous influence on my work and that of my peers.

Dr. Prahalad was more than a celebrated management guru, he was a visionary.  He redefined the way that a growing number of global businesses deal with developing markets, and he helped to shape a new economic paradigm.


In Appreciation

Friday, January 1st, 2010

One of the more satisfying experiences at year’s end is reaching out to clients, partners and colleagues to thank them for their business and their stalwart support.  It’s even sweeter this time while reflecting on an entire decade going back to the early days of my business.


The Age of Aimlessness

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

So, then…let us reflect together for a while, consider what matters, what really matters, and then in our wonderfully separate ways, fare forward together.  ~ James Hollis

It’s the season to reflect on a year that’s winding down before we turn the page. It feels right to look back on the year.  What interesting times these are!  Tom Friedman describes this as a period marked by the collision of two forces, the Great Recession and the Great Inflection – referring to the rise of cheap, plentiful technology.

The good news is that the economy is forcing us to adopt new tools more rapidly, accelerating business innovation. But, more tools bring more “noise”, and decibel levels are soaring. Noise distracts us from focusing on what’s important and we seem to be suffering from a collective case of “focus-deficit disorder”.  I think it’s hampering our performance.


International Seasoning

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Information’s pretty thin stuff unless mixed with experience. ~Clarence Day

Nearly every day, I work with colleagues who are eight or more time zones away. I’ve been doing this, with few interruptions, since the ‘80s. Back then, “geographically distributed” projects were run only by multinational corporations.  Times have changed.

Global markets have become more interdependent, and collaboration across borders is now commonplace, even at smaller companies.  Businesses know that they have to team up with companies in other regions to compete in the global “value creation” race*.

But a lot of companies struggle with this. In a June, 2009 survey by TMA World, 82% of respondents rated the performance of their company’s “global, virtual” teams as either ‘moderate’ or ‘poor’.  Yet nearly all of those surveyed said that global teams were ‘very important’ to their organizations.


Doing the Next Right Thing

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

Several years ago, I discovered Laurence Gonzalez’s (’03) book, Deep Survival – Who Lives, Who Dies and Why about individuals  surviving “do or die” situations.  Recently, I glanced through it again thinking it might be helpful for business people grappling with the challenges of this economy.  I couldn’t put it down.  Now, I’m  convinced of its value for anyone going through any kind of crisis.

Gonzalez studied hundreds of survival stories and presents many of them in his book. He shares tales of people surviving harrowing crashes and others lost in the wilderness.  Fascinated by their travails, he ponders why some people make it, while others perish? What general lessons can we learn from how the survivors behaved?

Gonzalez finds that one of the key features “deep survivors” possess is the capacity to focus on “doing the next right thing”.  Instead of becoming overwrought, survivors accept what’s happening earlier in the process and focus on extricating themselves.  They reason, “Okay, I’m here. This is really happening. Now I’m going to do the next right thing…”


Coming Full Circle. The First Family Visits Ghana

Friday, July 10th, 2009

Cape Coast Castle copy


Over the coarse of the eighteenth century, the Gold Coast produced more than a million slaves, about 15 percent of the total shipped from West Africa… ~Marcus Rediker, The Slave Ship

The first African-American President of the U.S. landed in Accra, Ghana last evening. His first trip to the Sub-Sahara has symbolic significance for many reasons. Many Africans believe that Barack Obama represents the ascendancy of Africa on a global stage, reversing the despair and hardship that’s plagued the continent during the post-colonial era.  They hope that his visit will call attention to the steep challenges and promising opportunities the continent faces.


Summer Read: The Mindful Leader

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

Stillness, insight, and wisdom arise only when we can settle into being complete in this moment,  without having to seek or hold on to or reject anything.  ~Jon Kabat-Zinn

We often give others the advice that we ourselves need to take to heart.  That goes for recommending books. Keep that in mind while considering my summer reading suggestion, The Mindful Leader- Ten Principles for Bringing Out the Best in Ourselves and Others.

I recognize the value of mindfulness and have meditated intermittently since my college days. But often, I’ve placed my desire to succeed in the corporate world ahead of other interests.  This book, by Michael Carroll, is a reminder to integrate mindfulness into all aspects of one’s life, including work.


In Choosing a Leader

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. -Abraham Lincoln

The U.S. electorate is about to make its choice. The next president will be tested by an epic global economic downturn and a domestic crisis in leadership.  Even before he takes office, he’ll need to inspire confidence in his approach. He’ll have to build a consensus with leaders of the opposition and will have to choose some of them to join his team.  Governing in this environment will demand extraordinary leadership skills—sound judgment, character depth and an even temperament. 

I’ve been reflecting lately on the virtues of leadership. I’ve thought about how heads of state in the U.S. and around the world have met challenges as vexing as these.    

I keep returning to Jim Collins’ popular book, Good to Great. He analyzes how companies go from being merely good performers to achieving sustainable great performance.  In identifying success factors, he noticed that truly great companies were led by what he termed “Level 5 leaders”—individuals who possess a rare and seemingly contradictory blend of intense drive and humility. Collins observed that these leaders demonstrated an abiding commitment to the long term success of their companies rather than advancing their own personal agendas.